Vintage Tokai Anatomy: Early tuners (electrics)

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Homer J. Simpson

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I recently made an attempt at finding out who made the single-line Kluson-style tuners (and also other hardware) Tokai used in the late 70s/early 80s. People reflexively say "Gotoh" whenever that question comes up and that's kind of understandable, they all look superficially the same. I'm not so convinced about that though, the only indication that they were made by Gotoh is their strange and unexpectedly sophisticated design!

F-Style Tuners (Springy Sound, Goldstar Sound, Custom Edition...)

First off, let's see what the originals look like on the side we usually don't get to see:

Kluson_Inline_Tuner.jpg
Original (modern, patent approved 1958) Kluson single-line tuner

Obviously just molded sheet metal attached to a molded sheet metal base plate with bent little lugs. That's also what modern "vintage" tuners used by Fender (partially MIC by Ping Works), Korean (Hanchang or Jin-Ho) tuners and of course Gotoh SD91 made in Japan look like - the base plate on the latter does not give away much except that it's "JAPAN" :

Screenshot 2023-12-26 at 04.07.28.jpg
Modern Gotoh MIJ SD-91 tuners

Vintage Tokai inline machine heads (Kluson style)

Screenshot 2024-01-02 at 07.52.38.jpg

Tokai catalog: "Tokai Kluson type peg, comparable to Rotomatic high precision pegs"
"Bushing type is original Tokai only"


I recently scolded a seller for advertising "80s NOS made in Japan" Tokai tuners made exactly like the examples on top - they were actually made in Korea by Hanchang and acquired in a parts sale at Tokai. They seemingly didn't know how 80s Tokai tuners look like, so they didn't realize that they also bought actual 80s 6-inline Tokai tuners (which they are selling for less than the faux MIJ Tokai tuners lol):

Black_Goldstar_Pin_Tuner.jpg
Tokai NOS anodized 80s tuner

Telling from the black anodizing they are probably mid-80s tuners, but they share the same construction as the regular Tokai "Deluxe" tuners:

Old_Tokai_Tuner_Pin.jpg
Actual vintage Tokai "Deluxe" tuner

So what's special about them? They are clearly meant to improve upon the very basic Kluson design:

1. Instead of the molded sheet metal base plates, they have what looks like die-cast metal bases with a flat surface that doesn't leave so much of an imprint on the finish like the original design.

2. That cast base plate adds a bushing sleeve that automatically centers the tuner and its post exactly in the middle of the bore like the more sophisticated Rotomatic design (that's also what the catalog text was meant to say). There is no chance that the post could be sitting slightly off-center in the bore, causing friction in the top bushing.

3. They have an "alignment pin". The original construction is relying on the 7 tiny screws and the tuners catching each other's edges for alignment and rotational stability against the string pull.

The "alignment pins" go into corresponding holes in the headstock:

ST60_SpaLogo_Neck_Pin_holes.jpg
Spaghetti logo Springy Sound headstock back with alignment holes

Goldstar_Neck_Pinholes.jpg
80s Goldstar headstock detail

The design prevents problems caused by little imprecisions during assembly and possibly saves time, there is no way to have the tuners mounted crooked by accident and residue play around the post axis is impossible. Sure, the original design works fine for more than 70 years now and the alignment pin seems almost overdone in this inline configuration but to me, that all represents much the typical "Japanese touch" that made us love these guitars.

Tokai_Deluxe_Plastic.jpg
Tokai Deluxe tuners with the pins shaved off - on what model did they use white plastic buttons?

Another thing that jumps into the eye (not) is that there are no markings whatsoever. Gotoh had a way of more often than not leaving little logos or tiny hallmarks even on their OEM stuff - but not always, so the absence of markings doesn't say "not made by Gotoh". But it also doesn't say the opposite.


What did the competition use?

Tokai was obviously not the only Japanese company not liking the original Kluson lightweight style. Here's a tuner made for Fernandes:

Screenshot 2023-12-26 at 04.51.03.jpg
Fernandes FST tuner

Kanda Shokai obviously used the same supplier as Fernandes, here's some Greco double-line tuners:

Greco_Deluxe_6L.jpg
Greco double-line Deluxe 6L tuners

Similar looking massive base plates but with different details on them, a much longer integrated base sleeve around the post, no pin and no clue left as to what company may have made them either. My first thought was that there were 2 different companies making this type of tuners, on second thought I figured it more certainly means that the Tokai and Greco/Fernandes tuners were made on different machines or with different casting molds, and these machines could have been located in the same factory.


Other F-style machine head models and prices

Back to the Tokai vintage tuners - thanks to Sigmania's 1981 parts catalog we can see that the the tuners were not exactly cheap:

S - 090 Kluson type nickel.......................... ¥ 5,500
S - 091 Kluson type gold............................ ¥ 7,500
S - 092 Fender type chrome....................... ¥ 3,500
S - 093 Fender type Rotomatic chrome..... ¥ 6,000

Not sure I'm calculating that right, but at an average exchange rate of 250JP¥ per dollar in 1981, 5,500¥ was $22. That would be $74 MSRP in today's money for the nickel type tuners. A set of comparable (plain, non-locking, non-HAP) Gotoh SD91-05M-N tuners is currently $42-50 street price.

Screenshot 2023-12-27 at 13.16.00.jpg
36% more expensive: Tokai "Deluxe" tuners in gold ("S-091")

Going further through the price list, the ST42 Springy and the Silver Stars below the SS48 got the "S-092 Fender type chrome" tuners, which seem to be the just the well-known "trapezoid" tuners inside, but with a more F-like, crest-shaped cap:

Tokai_SS38.jpg
"S-092 Fender type chrome" tuners on an SS38


Which companies produced the incredible amount of these tuners, or where they were made remains a mystery, it seems that production may have been outsourced for these early on.

The SS48 and above got the "Rotomatic" style, among us better known as "octagon" tuners. This SS60 is notable for the little Gotoh logos (which are usually absent on those):


Tokai_SS60_Gotoh.jpg


Past the "golden" era

Still within the "golden" era, the new original Tokai models increasingly used modern, Schaller/Rotomatic-style sealed tuners, of which some (but not all) clearly show that they were made by Gotoh:

Tokai_CustomEdition_Gotoh_Tuner.jpg
Tokai Custom Edition tuner

At some point yet to be determined (could be the 90s), the cast base plates with their improvements and the alignment holes disappeared on Goldstars and were replaced with original design Kluson-style tuners, now identifiable ("JAPAN") as Gotohs on Japanese guitars and Hanchang (small "HC" stamp on the base plate) on the models made in Korea.
 
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Tokai G-style Tuners (LS)

Using precise drilling jigs and pinned tuners seems to be a pretty good idea on 3L3R headstocks to prevent little owies like this:

G-Headstock_Tuners_Bleh.jpg
Crooked tuners on a guitar made by a certain company in the southern US.

Of course, the tuners used on the LS and ES etc. models are the 3L-3R versions of the improved inline tuners, with the same solid base plate, the same machining marks and the alignment pin making sure the owners don't get cross-eyed when they look at the back of their headstocks:

Tokai_LS80_Tuners.jpg
Tokai "L-642" pinned single-line tuners in nickel

The headstock with matching pin hole:

Tokai_LS80_AlignmentPinHole_Cropped.jpg
Tokai LS80 pin hole

That's already the whole story for the LS series. Well, almost - Tokai had some story about their choice of tuners in the 1979 LS/LC catalog:

Screenshot 2023-12-27 at 17.24.58.jpg
This is the culmination of the sweat and toil of the project team. Listen carefully.
Why didn't we use the rotomatic pegs? The answer is simple: the weight of the rotomatic pegs would have destroyed all the live sound. The bass will be diminished in no time at all, and it will not be music at all. The reason for this is that the heavy pegheads absorb the string vibrations. Hard to believe but it's the truth. Besides, the design of the peghead is not good at all. It's too big.

So the project team decided to improve on the Kluson-type peg. The original Kluson pegs were a little inaccurate, but the Tokai pegs are high performance pegs with 2 threads, and of course, no rattling. The coloring of the plastic on the knobs is also meticulously done. Anyway, you can enjoy the best peghead feeling.

This seems pretty contrary to the modern understanding that heavy tuners are moar better for le sustain and god-like toan. Whatever we want to believe, the "heavy" Grovers were only available from 1959 on special order, so the lightweight Klusons remained the standard on the "Standard" until it disappeared for a while in its original shape, and Kluson "Deluxe" guitars are what most Love Rocks revive after all.

Again, Greco used similar tuners with a solid base plate and no pin but with a Rotomatic-style threaded bushing screwing into the base plate sleeve to hold their Kluson-style tuners in place:

Greco_3L3R_double_line copy.jpg
Early 80s double-line, double-ring "Greco Deluxe" tuners

Just like on the F-style guitars, the manufacturer(s) of these parts can't even be guessed and it changed to standard, "JAPAN"-stamped, Gotoh-made Kluson-style machine heads at some unknown point past the "golden" years.

Tokai_2005_3L3R_Gotoh.jpg
Modern Gotoh SD90-SL-N machine heads made in Japan, from a 2005 Love Rock

LC Tuners

The LC 60 was equipped with regular "Deluxe" Kluson-clones in gold and according to the early catalogs the LC100/110s got original Kluson GS-503 "Waffleback" machine heads. The Kluson Mfg. Co. closed 1981 (according to this site) so this was to come to an end soon, but the 1982 Tokai catalog still lists them. Original Kluson Wafflebacks were produced again in Korea by the mid-90s, and it seems Tokai LCs got Gotoh Rotomatic-style tuners for the time being.

Screenshot 2023-12-27 at 20.37.39.jpg
1980 LC60

Screenshot 2023-12-27 at 20.38.31.jpg
1980 LC100

To tell Tokai's original Kluson Wafflebacks apart from the later reproduction model, we need to know what they looked like on the side facing the headstock again. Please note that this is preliminary info until we've seen a set of Wafflebacks taken off a Tokai LC and an early (mid-90s) set of reproduction Wafflebacks:

Original_Waffleback_Back.jpg
Original vintage Kluson Waffleback (wong button style though): Plain, unmarked gold base plate

Goldo_Waffleback_Back.jpg
Modern reproduction Waffleback, nickel base plate stating the gear ratio

Prices

The 1981 price list is a little confusing:

Screenshot 2023-12-29 at 08.49.28.jpg

L - 640 Kluson type 1 (single-ring) nickel............¥ 5,500
L - 641 Kluson type 1 (single-ring) gold..............¥7,500
L - 642 Kluson type 2 (double-ring) nickel..........¥5,500
L - 643 Kluson type 2 (double-ring) gold.............¥7,500
L - 644 Kluson Deluxe gold.................................¥ 7,200

The original "Waffleback" Klusons were not only cheaper than the Japanese single-line "Deluxe" tuners
, the catalog lists them as "Deluxe" tuners and gives them a wrong part number (L-645) under the image. 🤪

That brings us to the timeline of the shell stamps: Until 1982, all of the Tokai Kluson-style single-line tuners were stamped "TOKAI", 1982 they became a bit more vintage-correct "DELUXE" stamped tuners.

In earlier versions of this post I commented on the special features of these tuners being another way to check their authenticity but it seems it's much easier than that - there are no other tuners having this kind of stamping on them, original (MIK) Klusons say "KLUS(hole)N DELUXE"" and Gotoh replacements are either "no-line" (no stamping) or are missing the "line" completely. This is also reflected in the post-Shōwa-era guitars, they all have no "line" and hence no stamping on them.
 
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Yeah I saw several full sets (6L only) sold on YJ at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, they are very much made out of unobtainium now if you broke one and need one. Except for clowns selling them on Reverb one-by-one for $50 a pop of course.
 
I've recently had to change my wonderfully aged 1982 LC60 tuners for some gold Gotoh SD90s, the Gotoh's look awful :(

Wish they made an aged gold version. I thought about getting the aged nickel but it's a custom and it might get upset if I don't treat it with respect :)

They've cured the slipping tuning however.

IMG_20231229_115924_HDR~2.jpgIMG_20231229_115958_HDR~2.jpg
 
I edited hopefully most of the BS out of the 2 posts in the past days, and explained in a bit more detail what I think makes the Tokai tuners pretty special. That in turn makes one sad that they don't make them that way anymore!

the Gotoh's look awful
Aged gold Fabers:

https://www.faberguitar.com/FKT33SB...s-tulip-knob-3-3-separate-bushing-gold-aged_1
They've cured the slipping tuning however.

Would you mind elaborating a bit on what exactly you experienced there? I'd be curious to know what the exact failure could've been - as far as one could tell without taking the tuner apart (which might not be possible without destroying it).
 
Would you mind elaborating a bit on what exactly you experienced there? I'd be curious to know what the exact failure could've been - as far as one could tell without taking the tuner apart (which might not be possible without destroying it).
Well, I wasn't sure it would cure it but it has done. During gigs a couple of strings would go out of tune immediately after a solo, the G string was really bad. Needed constant tuning. Replaced the nut with a new bone one and that didn't make any difference, the bridge was slightly bowed and that was also replaced, no difference. Could only be the tuners. They were rattly and very loose to turn,. obviously worn. Also when playing the guitar not plugged in you could hear a rattle/vibration that seemed to be coming from a tuner and that noise has gone now. I'll probably try and open one up (without damaging it) one day when I get the time and see what's what
 
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Wish I'd have seen those Faber's tuners!
 
They were rattly and very loose to turn,. obviously worn.

Well that's what I heard is to be expected with all tuners at some point but after only 40 years? :) I guess that all plus the rattling and loose feel really points to a worn or damaged (or both) worm gear.

Wish I'd have seen those Faber's tuners!

Wish you'd have asked! :)
 
I've recently had to change my wonderfully aged 1982 LC60 tuners for some gold Gotoh SD90s, the Gotoh's look awful :(

Wish they made an aged gold version. I thought about getting the aged nickel but it's a custom and it might get upset if I don't treat it with respect :)

They've cured the slipping tuning however.
Faber makers aged gold Kluson style tuners. They might fit - the posts are a little longer, and the shaft is 6mm, so it should fit. The peg shaft is a little shorter, so I'm not sure if they'll be too close to the headstock. They're also not cheap - but they look good?

It is too bad Gotoh doesn't offer relic'd gold.
 
Faber makers aged gold Kluson style tuners. They might fit - the posts are a little longer, and the shaft is 6mm, so it should fit. The peg shaft is a little shorter, so I'm not sure if they'll be too close to the headstock. They're also not cheap - but they look good?

It is too bad Gotoh doesn't offer relic'd gold.
You could probably age Gotoh tuners. I have used both vinegar and salt on other finishes (damp rag approach), which gets good results. That came about from my work in the electronics industry, using methods to accelerate aging.
 
You could probably age Gotoh tuners. I have used both vinegar and salt on other finishes (damp rag approach), which gets good results. That came about from my work in the electronics industry, using methods to accelerate aging.
How did you do it? Soak a rag in vinegar and salt and leave it on the parts?
 
How did you do it? Soak a rag in vinegar and salt and leave it on the parts?
Basically yes. You need it wet enough to coat the parts, but not enter the tuner for obvious reasons. Going to try this again this week on something similar this week. Then try on my own tuners.
 
Basically yes. You need it wet enough to coat the parts, but not enter the tuner for obvious reasons. Going to try this again this week on something similar this week. Then try on my own tuners.
Nice. How long do you leave it on for?

I need to try this on some gold strap buttons. Will be a little easier than tuners, not having to worry about moving parts.
 
Nice. How long do you leave it on for?

I need to try this on some gold strap buttons. Will be a little easier than tuners, not having to worry about moving parts.
Give it a day or too. Clean off to prevent even more tarnishing.
Nice. How long do you leave it on for?

I need to try this on some gold strap buttons. Will be a little easier than tuners, not having to worry about moving parts.
Should be fine. Check out the link How To Age Brass and Bronze With Vinegar and Salt
 
A lot of shiny metals like brass have a polymer coating that can be tough to get through.
 
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